HR Laws Smash Free Speech?

The head of the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has disagreed with the view of former Australian judge and ABC chairman James Spigelman that Labor’s overhaul of discrimination laws will have a “chilling effect” on free speech.

HRLC’s executive director Phil Lynch said that, while some of Spigelman’s concerns are valid, he doesn’t believe the Gillard Government’s Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, which consolidates federal discrimination laws, is a threat to free speech.

At the Human Rights Day oration for the Australian Human Rights Commission on Monday (10 December), Spigelman warned that the Bill could make discrimination in all areas subject to provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, which imposes liability for statements that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.

“Declaring conduct, relevantly speech, to be unlawful, because it causes offence, goes too far,” said Spigelman.

Last year the Federal Court applied Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act against newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt over blog posts suggesting it was fashionable for “fair-skinned people” of mixed ancestry to declare they were Aboriginal.

Spigelman argued that the new Bill could see this provision cover statements about age, gender and disability, resulting in “a significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech … whether or not you like Andrew Bolt”.

 Full story here.